As we build back after pandemic restrictions have eased, striving to incorporate the voices of young people in our decision-making is more important than ever. Most of the organisations within the music education sector exist to enrich the lives of young people, but are they involving those same young people in shaping how they work?
We’ve been talking with a wide range of hubs and services, organisations in the music education ecosystem and sector-adjacent organisations, to find out what their key principles are for an effective youth voice strategy. There are some common refrains in our conversations, so we’ve shaped a series of panel discussions around youth voice to share thoughts, ideas and learnings with the wider sector. Here are some of the key themes, with more to follow as the series progresses.
Youth Voice is multi-faceted
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to youth voice, and the way it works for your organisation will be very different to the way it works for another. But there are lots of different things to try, and we can take inspiration from others who have been experimenting with different approaches. Many organisations are soliciting input from young people into repertoire choice, for example, or lesson structure. Some have robust and long-standing leadership programmes which prepare the next generation of music leaders, while others place responsibility on the shoulders of young people to programme concerts or symposia. Some start by consulting young people, implementing advisory groups or youth boards, while others create truly youth-led initiatives and spaces. Whichever approach you choose to take, there’s often a balance to be struck between following the ideas and enthusiasm of the young people you’re working with, and taking heed of the wisdom and expertise of people who’ve been working in music education for a long time. Bringing young people on this particular part of the journey is a key element for success.
The ‘if we build it, they will come’ approach is not enough
Many young people are used to not being listened to. In the conventional way their schooling and parenting are approached, they can quite often feel disenfranchised in major decisions affecting their lives. For this reason, it’s not enough to simply put in place processes or systems which solicits their voices. We also have to create a safe space in which young people actually want to speak. Sometimes this is about training and development for the young people in how to most effectively ensure their voices are heard. This could take the form of assertiveness training or presentation skills. In governance situations it could simply be about taking extra care to prepare them for what to expect. Often, the simplest way to make young people feel comfortable speaking up is to demonstrate that they are truly being listened to. Regularly reporting back how you have heard and responded to their input will build trust and confidence. Think about the young people you work with. What would empower them to speak? How can you build their ‘soft skills’ and support their confidence in spaces which have not traditionally invited their contribution?
We’re all on a journey
From all the conversations we’ve had about youth voice, the biggest common theme is that we are all learning and feeling our way with this, and even organisations which have youth voice in their DNA are still working things out and, sometimes, getting things wrong. Acknowledging that you’re on the journey and letting young people guide you is the best way forward. We can’t do everything all at once, so where do you want to start? Coming along to Music Mark’s member events about youth voice will give you ideas and inspiration to take the next step on your youth voice journey.
By Carmel Cardona
Find out more about our Youth Voice series, and book your place today (free for Music Mark members)
- What are the possibilities for youth voice? 3-4pm Thursday 7 October 2021
- Youth Voice and your EDI strategy 3-4pm Thursday 11 November 2021
- Measuring the impact of youth voice 3-4pm Thursday 20 January 2022
See you there!